By Harry Allison
Lagerad Vick poured in 29 points and Dedric Lawson added 28 points and 12 rebounds as No. 1 Kansas held off off the No. 17 Wildcats 74-71.
Devon Dotson added 11 points for the Jayhawks, including four effortless free throws in the final 1:10 to help Kansas (9-0) end a three-game losing streak to Villanova – the last two in the NCAA Tournament.
”This atmosphere was just awesome,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright. ”We played a great program, just a great atmosphere – tough game – and they just did a great job getting Lagerald Vick in spots where he wanted it, and Dedric Lawson, you know you’re not going to shut them out.”
Still, the Wildcats (8-4) had chances in the final couple minutes.
Collin Gillespie’s three-point play drew them within 69-65 with 31 seconds left, and Vick gave them an opening when he threw the ball away on the ensuing inbounds play. But Vick atoned for the mistake by pulling down a defensive rebound, and then calmly made a pair of free throws at the other end.
Phil Booth’s deep, line-drive 3 got Villanova within 71-68, and after Lawson made the second of two foul shots for a 72-68 lead, Booth added another driving layup to trim the deficit to two.
Lawson added two more free throws to restore a 72-68 lead with 7.5 seconds left, and Gillespie was fouled at the other end. He made the first but was forced to miss the second on purpose, and the ball squirted toward the Wildcats’ bench, where a scrum ultimately gave Kansas the ball with 0.4 seconds left.
Once the Jayhawks inbounded the ball, they finally had a long-awaited win over the Wildcats.
Even if it came with far less on the line.
”We’re still 1-2 against Villanova,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. ”We beat them in the Sweet 16. They beat us in the Elite Eight. They beat us in the Final Four. The game today was nice, but it wasn’t a real game like the others were real games.”
Booth finished with 29 points for the Wildcats. Eric Paschall scored 17 but was rendered ineffective down the stretch because of foul trouble, and Gillespie finished with 15 but was just 1 for 7 from 3-point range.
Kansas has now won 39 straight in Allen Fieldhouse as the nation’s top-ranked team.
”They’re a very good defensive team,” Booth said. ”We missed some shots at the end, but they did some great things defensively with their length. They just did a great job.”
The Jayhawks led 33-31 at halftime, despite playing most of the way without Dotson and fellow starter Quentin Grimes. Grimes picked up three early fouls and Dotson had two, relegating them to the bench.
Their teammates picked them up with the kind of defensive effort Kansas sorely needed in their lopsided Final Four loss, when Paschall and Co. made just about shot they took. The Jayhawks harried the senior forward into a couple of crucial turnovers while largely shutting down the paint.
Villanova found its offensive stride in the second half.
Then again, so did Kansas.
And what most had envisioned as an up-and-down, back-and-forth showdown between national powers turned into precisely that. There were eight ties and eight lead changes, the majority of them in the opening minutes of the second half, as two of college basketball’s blue-bloods went toe-to-toe in the Phog.
”This was a good game that allows you to have a quality win,” Self said, ”and you play through the experiences that make you better. But Jay would tell you, we’re both going to play in bigger games than this.”